There's a wind that seems to whistle in your ears. It howls outside; you can picture snow banking up against the thin wooden walls, imagine Sir Douglas Mawson strapping his feet into the spiked clogs that he fashioned for himself after frostbite began to destroy his limbs, and envision Mawson's men preparing to tackle the bitter cold outside.
This is Antarctica, and a science base at lonely Cape Denison. The walls here are thin and wooden. The only heat comes from the burning blubber of seals and penguins. And still the wind howls.
Fortunately, however, this is not actually Antarctica – outside the wooden walls I'm staring at today is the relative safety of Hobart's Constitution Dock. The howling of the wind is digital, emanating from speakers tucked away in the corridor outside. Everything else, however, is real, made to perfectly replicate the huts that the scientist and explorer Douglas Mawson and his men lived in for two years during their Australasian Antarctic Expedition that began in late 1911.
The Baltic pine walls are built from the same timber, sourced from the same Finnish sawmill. The bunk beds are set out in the same order as those you'd find on the southern continent, complete with "Hyde Park Corner", where the expedition team's English subjects once slept. Mawson's small bedroom has also been painstakingly recreated, down to the picture on the wall and the doll, given to him by the ballerina Anna Pavlova, resting on his sleeping bag.
These replica huts, now a museum and one of Hobart's most popular attractions, are the work of the Mawson's Huts Foundation, and profits go towards restoring and preserving the original huts far south in Cape Denison.
You can almost feel that cold as you wander the small room, listening to the howling wind outside.Ben Groundwater
Why Hobart? We're actually closer here to Mawson's Antarctic base than we are to Perth. Many of the great explorers – the likes of Amundsen and Scott – once called through the Tasmanian capital, and it remains an important base for modern Antarctic exploration. It's the perfect spot to place this ode to one of Australia's great pioneers.
The huts don't look much from the outside. Hastened by bad weather and limited by the materials available, Mawson and his 17 men took just three weeks to build the originals, which consist of a workshop – which in Hobart is the museum foyer – a verandah area, and a main living quarters in which 18 men ate, slept, studied, and, if the pedal-powered piano is anything to go by, sang. All of the details of the original huts have been recreated, from the small enclave photographer Frank Hurley used as a dark room, to the foods available in the kitchen (admittedly minus the explorers' main source of protein, penguin meat), to the roulette wheel that was built to help pass the time. A small gap in the wood shows where the men could watch the Aurora Australis. Peer through another space and you can see their makeshift toilet.
The tour begins in what was once the verandah area, where stories of the men involved in the expedition are told through lighted displays. As you wind through the passageway you begin to understand the hardships faced by the expedition team in the world's coldest, loneliest continent, as you read about the living conditions and the mini-expeditions both successful and not, before you round the corner and enter the small abode in which 18 men lived, and two men died.
There are initials painted on the wooden bunk beds, same as there are in Antarctica, indicating where everyone slept. There are a few luxuries laid out on the big dining table: whisky, port, chocolate. There's a heater placed above in the rafters, a device that managed to keep the inside temperature to a balmy minus-four degrees.
You can almost feel that cold as you wander the small room, listening to the howling wind outside, feeling the extremes of Antarctic exploration. Fortunately, however, in this Antarctica there's a pub next door.
The Mawson's Huts Replica Museum, at Constitution Dock in Hobart, is open daily, and entry costs $12 for adults, $10 for concessions. See mawsons-huts-replica.org.au. Travel company Chimu Adventures, a supporter of the Mawson's Huts Foundation, is running two expeditions down to the real huts in Antarctica, departing January and December 2016. See www.chimuadventures.com/Antarctica.
The writer travelled as a guest of Chimu Adventures.